Sudbury Schools

So, after a long chain of looking up something interesting, which led to something else interesting, which led to….which led to…which led to… I came across Sudbury Schools.

I linked to them from unschooling, which is something I’ve had serious doubts about. Something that has made no real sense to me. But something I’ve heard of a few moms using.

When I first started reading about Sudbury schools I was rolling my eyes and thinking how crazy the idea was. But I kept looking. And looking. And reading. Because…I found it interesting.

And then I realized there was a school near me.

So I looked into them. I read their about page. I read this article about two little 5 year olds arguing about sharing. And the staff’s position made a lot of sense to me. I don’t know that I’d have the patience for it, but I’d love to. Then I read this article comparing traditional school to Sudbury Schools. And again, it made so much sense to me. I did well in regular school. But I was bored. A lot. I love math and reading. But I didn’t love school. Then I read this article on boredom. And damn did that ever make sense.

At first all I could think was, with that much freedom, kids would just play.

And then I thought, what’s wrong with that? I could read long before I ever went to school, because it interested me. I actually got in trouble for reading too much. The big people could do it, I wanted to, too. Just like how I learned to walk and talk. The best parts of my math skills I learned, not from school, but from shopping and games with my mom. I can do great mental math from some mental games we played, at my request, and from shopping and calculating percentages off, or from calculating unit costs. I wanted to know how to do all of that. So I learned it. Well.

I think of how, while I knew how to read before I went to school, I hid that fact from my teacher because I wanted her to feel good about being able to teach me, and not to think I was bored. And because I was embarrassed at not fitting in well enough. Really. My mom went to the first parent-teacher conference, and the teacher excitedly told her about how, “She can name almost all of the letters!” At which point my mom stared at her in disbelief and said, “She can read.”

I think of how bored I was in college. I skipped as much class as I could, because I hated it. And I had (some) choice on what my classes were there! Oh, and how when the class was interesting to me (a lit class on books I liked and was discussion based, a history class that functioned almost entirely on debate, a math class where I just loved the subject)…I actually went! And was excited! And did the out-of-class reading! Amazing what some interest will do for you.

I think of how, even now, I spend a lot of time bored…and I just..don’t…have good skills for occupying myself. Because so much of my life was led by others: when I’d study subject to subject, when I ate, when I did anything. I didn’t ever have large amounts of time where I could be self-directed…so I still don’t know what to do with them. And now working makes me stressed and tired..but time off is stressful, too, because I feel like I should be relaxing and I don’t know how!

I think of how there really was no self-direction, or opportunity to learn what I loved spending time doing in high school, since other people set almost my entire curriculum, but then all of a sudden I had to be totally self-directed in picking a major which would determine much of my future possibilities (and I know with many BAs the actual degree doesn’t matter, just having any degree. In the sciences, that’s not true at all). And I ended up studying something I really didn’t enjoy, just because I’d had a good teacher in it and I did enjoy some similar things.

I think of all the parents who buy their kids learning games or video games, to try to encourage them to want to read or do other subjects better. And then think, why does that just have to be a supplement when “normal” methods fail? What if kids could just play Magic: The Gathering together? What a great impetus to learn to read well, or do math faster, or be logical, or plan for the future. They’re going to leave a game and want to improve in all of those skills. When people used to ask me how I learned to type like lightening, I proudly told them from playing an online collaborative game. I’d kind of laugh, ’cause I thought it was crazy, but it was true! I played Starcraft, where you had to collaborate with online teammembers, and the only way to communicate was typing. However, while typing, your buildings/soldiers could be being destroyed, so you had to be fast in order to be efficient! There was a typing “unit” in school once…and all I learned from it was where to place my hands..incorrectly. I finally went and asked my mom where to put my hands, and then taught myself to type, because I wanted that competitive edge.

We encourage our kids to learn through play when they’re young. We encourage them to do “productive” things, like play house, play with puzzles, play with interactive toys. Why does that kind of activity stop being productive when they hit 5 and go to kindergarten?

I started out thinking this kind of school was a total joke, and a total disservice to children.

Now I’m thinking it makes a helluva lot of sense, and has all the benefits of homeschooling (meets each child’s needs) without what I consider to be a MAJOR downside (lack of social development…and yes, I have yet to meet a home-school-y who does not stick out in a crowd at least somewhat).

What are your thoughts?

1 Comment

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One response to “Sudbury Schools

  1. Erica

    I’ve been thinking about this for a bit and I’m still not sure about my exact ideas but this is kinda what I’ve come up with. (I’m sick and rambling so sorry in advance).

    The Montessori/ Sudbury school system is an interesting one in theory and definitely something to be looked into. It has the benefits of allowing the children to excel in the areas that interest them, keep them interested overall because they are doing “fun” things, and helps to prepare them for the future. (And I totally agree with you on the BA vs BS distinction. If you go in to the sciences you have to KNOW what you want to do because you can’t change partway without totally screwing yourself over).

    But I don’t think I would have thrived there as a child. I really don’t. I need the type of structure and discipline that comes with classes. I COULD learn just as well by not going to class and reading from the book and talking it out with friends, but I won’t. I COULD have tried hands on activities that are new or different to me, but I generally stick to what I know. I COULD conceivably excel on the few things that I stick to, but I would generally only go as far as beating all my friends but not too much farther or excel to the point of an “achievement reward” of some kind and then stop because there is no reason to become better.

    I’m just that type of child. I’m a very motivated and competitive, but only to a point. You can see that in how I play games now. I will work hard enough to become competitive amongst my friends and then stop playing. I will play single player games obsessively to earn all the achievements and then stop 3/4 of the way through because I’ve lost interest or I realize that it takes too much time. I like my comfort zone and won’t generally move too far past that of my own accord.

    If they could make standard schools more interesting, the curriculum more flexible or more hands on or more fun, and keep that idea all throughout the years of school (preschool through high school) then that would have been great for me. But as it stands, standard schools are too boring or too harried or too broad while “unschooling” schools are too unstructured and too based on the whims of me as a child.

    Ok. Too sick and too rambling. Sorry.

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